Tag: Africa

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The North-South divide – inequalities in knowledge production and exchange 

Bookshelf, books, knowledge

This year’s Global Partnership Network (GPN) conference took place at the University of Kassel, Germany, between 4 and 7 October. The GPN is a collaboration of higher education institutions and civil society groups for research, teaching and workshops around SDG 17: “Global Partnership for Sustainable Development”. The network draws attention to the shortcomings, limitations and problematic aspects of international partnerships that have historically been shaped by, or still reflect, colonial relations between North and South. 

Henning Melber, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Commonwealth Studies/School for Advanced Study, University of London, Associate at the Nordic Africa Institute and member of the SweDev steering committee, gave a keynote speech at the GPN conference, reflecting on his previous work in development and African studies.

Global Asymmetric Power Relations

In his speech, Henning claimed that knowledge is never neutral or value-free. He is convinced that knowledge always has a historical and political character and is dependent on its user’s interests and goals. For that reason, we “cannot uncritically affirm and praise knowledge production (and its dissemination) as a relevant aspect of and contribution to development without examining the nature and intention of both, the knowledge created and applied as well as the concept and meaning of development”, he argued. 

Henning stated that global asymmetric power relations include knowledge. Since “knowledge is power”, the production and possession of knowledge lead to structural dominance. The inequalities in socio-economic global development resemble the knowledge economy with the scientific dependency of the global South.

“True decolonization should have a critical understanding of the underlying assumptions, motivations and values that inform research practices.”

Henning Melber, member of the SweDev steering committee
Photo: Henning Melber / Twitter

Inequalities in the production and exchange of knowledge

Nowadays, international collaborations with diverse stakeholders in research projects are supported, however, Henning noted that the extent to which western frameworks are seen as universal, and operations are embedded in a northern environment, is often not critically reflected upon. In research partnerships, unequal power relations can result from unequal access to funding, knowledge and expert networks. There are, nevertheless, opportunities for researchers to counteract and overcome structural constraints to form equal partnerships, said Henning. 

For equal partnerships, the accumulated knowledge should be accessible to all partners and its benefits should be equally distributed, Henning stressed. However, it appears challenging in reality, as scholars are more often rewarded for the impact factor of publications, rather than practical or even political relevance, leaving North-South cooperation all too often in the hands of partners from the North.

Keynote summarised by Roksana Rotter, Communication and Research Intern. Edited by Alice Tunfjord, Associate within SweDev at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

Child mortality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo Flag

Worldwide, child mortality has fallen by more than half since 1990, however, five million children still die before their fifth birthday every year. In some countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the mortality rate is particularly high: an estimated quarter of a million children die there annually.

Eight researchers have recently published an article on this topic. In this study, they looked at how the difference in mortality is related to coverage of life-saving interventions and how coverage and mortality are associated with conflict. The article has been summarised by Miriam Mosesson in Global Bar Magazine.

Why do children die?

“The first month of life is the most dangerous time where almost half of the deaths before five years of age are happening. Pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria are the three major killers after the first month accounting for about half of the deaths in this age group.”

“In the DRC, approximately 7%s of children die before their fifth birthday. However, behind this number lies considerable differences between the 26 provinces of the country (…). In our study, we compared the coverage of 23 indicators, necessary to end preventable deaths in children, between the DRCs 26 provinces (…). The indicators ranged from exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life to having access to soap and water to wash your hands, being vaccinated, and having access to correct care when falling ill from diarrhoea (…). We found that these indicators varied substantially between the provinces.”

Important conclusions of the study

“This study has first and foremost showed that your chances of having access to life saving interventions vary depending on where in the DRC you are born. Second, children in conflict-affected provinces of the country do not seem to be the most neglected; rather, children that live in the poorest provinces without infrastructure lack access to life-saving interventions. Children in conflict areas should continue to get a lot of attention, but at the same time, it is essential to ensure that children living outside these areas are not left behind. We need to work in all settings in sustainable ways to stop children from dying for reasons we can prevent.”

This article was first published by Miriam Mosesson in Global Bar Magazine.

How Africa wants to strengthen efforts to protect the environment

trash, beach, plastic

At the 18th meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), African environment ministers pledged to end plastic pollution, stop open dumping and burning of waste, and fight antimicrobial resistance. The conference was held in Dakar, Senegal, from 12 to 16 September 2022. Mohamed Atani and David Ombisi from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) summarise the main outcomes of the conference.

“The President of AMCEN and Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Senegal, H.E Abdou Karim Sall, emphasised that the session comes in the wake of a regional health, food, energy and financial crisis that particularly impacts Africa, denoting urgency to the conference’s theme of “securing people’s well-being and ensuring environmental sustainability in Africa.””

“On pollution, ministers committed to:

  • eliminate open dumping and burning of waste in Africa and to promote use of waste as a resource for value and job creation. They called on development partners to support African countries to better monitor and reduce methane and black carbon emissions associated with waste.
  • improve awareness on the risks that antimicrobial resistance poses to human health and sustainable development in Africa. They also called for urgent and collective action to prevent and minimise adverse impacts of antimicrobial resistance.”

This article was first published by Mohamed Atani and David Ombisi in the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Why are some countries rich while others remain poor? 

Göran Holmqvist, Director at the Department for Asia, Middle East and Humanitarian Assistance at Sida, reviews Stefan Dercon’s “Gambling on Development Why Some Countries Win and Others Lose,” a potential bestseller among the classic books on development economics. This is the English summary of the original review published in the Swedish journal Ekonomisk Debatt 6/2022 (årgång 50).

Countries should invest in growth-oriented development 

In his book, Stefan Dercon, Professor at Oxford University and former Chief Economist of the British development aid agency, answers the question of why some countries win and others lose in development. His main thesis is that the countries’ elite must put aside their short-term, conflicting interests and instead “invest” in growth-oriented development (gambling on development). According to Holmqvist, Dercon nevertheless seems to ignore the role of civil society and other actors in the institution building process by acting as a counterforce to elite dominance. 

Dercon rejects the idea that a particular policy prescription is the success factor for countries. The differences in areas such as the degree of state involvement, governance, transparency, openness to the outside world and natural resource management are too great. However, common characteristics of successful countries are that states can act with credibility, adapt their roles to their capabilities and being able correct the course when initiatives fail.

What about development aid? 

Holmqvist writes that Dercon advocates an aid strategy à la Warren Buffet, the super-investor who invests in good management in businesses with long-term stability, rather than spectacular and short-term, growth potential. This means investing in countries with an emerging elite bargain on development, which in the past decade have been countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia (at least until recently), Bangladesh and perhaps Ghana. Despite the corruption and political oppression you may find in these countries, donors should not be over-alarmed but rather focus on long-term economic and social progress.  

Aid is also needed in countries that fail to get ahead, countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Malawi, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Afghanistan, where elites have acted according to short-term interests and the state has degenerated into an instrument of self-enrichment. In these countries, humanitarian needs are often the greatest. However, expectations on results should be low, and the approach should be cautious in order to facilitate future pro-development arrangements between elites. 

Dercon’s recommendations fit rather poorly with the orientation of Swedish aid, Holmqvist argues. Swedish aid have a strong focus on fragile countries with weak institutions and it has often demonstrated a high degree of sensitivity to even temporary, democratic setbacks when it comes to state-to-state assistance.

Civil society, citizens and counterforces to an elite-dominated state feature conspicuously little in Dercon’s country analyses and recommendations, although the implications it has for the more informed political economy analysis Dercon calls for. In this aspect Dercon is clearly at odds with another institutionally oriented economist – Daron Acemoglu (author of Why Nations Fail and of The Narrow Corridor) – whose analysis point at the crucial role such counterforces have in the shaping of development friendly institutions.  

SweDev hosted a dialogue with Dercon on 8 June this year. He held a keynote and presented main findings from his book and gave further insights.

News translation by Roksana Rotter, SweDev. Edited by Göran Holmqvist, Director at the Department for Asia, Middle East and Humanitarian Assistance at Sida and Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer for SweDev at SEI.

Research communications officer at the Nordic Africa Institute

Two men talking.

Do you agree that research-based knowledge needs to have a greater place in policy-making? Do you think the understanding of Africa’s opportunities and challenges needs to be strengthened among decision-makers in the Nordic region? Us too! Do you have solid experience in conveying ideas and crafting stories; in audio, audiovisual or text format? Are you eager to develop more of your talents in this area? Then we may have the job for you! The Nordic Africa Institute is looking for a research communications officer who thrives in a multicultural, academic environment, and who identifies with their knowledge-sharing mission in the service of democracy.

The role

The communications unit, six people strong, works with publications, meetings & events, web & digital channels, texts, films, photos, and a podcast. Among other things. As one of our colleagues is moving on, we are looking for his successor. Your main task will be to make research-based knowledge accessible and interesting to non-scholarly audiences. For the pieces you produce, you will draw much of your material from interviews with researchers and partners, events and meetings, in the Nordics and in Africa. Additionally, you will work with researchers on presentation skills and messages, and support journalists who wish to use the institute’s knowledge resources. Perhaps you have built your experience in journalism, in research communication, or elsewhere. You are interested in issues relating to Africa and the social sciences (read more about our impact areas here). You believe that research-based knowledge is an important part of policy-making and the fulfillment of the global goals.

How to apply

Send your CV and a personal letter through our online recruitment system, link below.
Closing Date for applications: 14 August 2022.

Africa’s middle classes

Africa’s middle classes have during the last decade emerged as a prominent reference point for discussing the potential role of social strata for development. This overview article by Henning Melber recapitulates and critically reflects the debate. It suggests not to expect the middle classes being a relevant vehicle for social transformation beyond its own interests.

Research coordinator at the Nordic Africa Institute

Job description

The Research Coordinator provides administrative support for research conducted at NAI (grant and externally funded) throughout the life cycle of the research project. This includes support with proposal writing, contracts, data management, ethical issues and project implementation. The coordinator will be the natural point of contact for communication between project leaders, research funders and collaborators. The coordinator will also play a key role in the development of research budgets, forecasts and reports and actively monitor research funding opportunities, policy and regulatory changes, as well as coordinates the compilation of our internal reporting (monitoring, evaluation and learning) as part of the Institute’s follow-up. The position supports the Head of Research and is responsible for maintaining long-term relationships with strategic partners in both the Nordic and African regions. Travel within the Nordic region and to African countries may be involved.

Qualifications and requirements

  • Master’s degree in economics, political science, international relations or equivalent.
  • At least 3-5 years of relevant experience in coordinating research projects, managing research projects or research funding
  • Experience in coordinating social science research projects
  • Very good computer skills
  • Good communication and cooperation skills
  • Fluent in Swedish and English (written and oral), desirable Portuguese or French (written and oral)
  • Experience working with the African continent or the global south

About the position

Temporary position for two years. Start no later than 1 September 2022 or as agreed.
Location: Uppsala.

About the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI)

The Nordic Africa Institute is an institute for research, documentation, knowledge dissemination and research-based consultancy on Africa. Founded in 1962, the Institute is a Swedish government agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and is jointly funded by Sweden, Finland and Iceland. The dedicated international team of 33 staff from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, works on current African social issues from different perspectives. The NAI cares for its staff and actively works on health and environmental issues. The office and library are located in a beautiful building in the Botanical Garden in the heart of Uppsala.


Please submit your CV and a covering letter in English via the NAI application system (link below).

Should you have further information, please refer to Eleanor Fisher (Head of Research) or Dan Åkhagen (HR).

African Guest Researchers’ Scholarship Programme 2023

The Nordic Africa Institute offers an opportunity for early-career researchers in Africa to pursue their own research projects in the fields of Social Sciences and Humanities. The scholarship offers access to the Institute’s library and other resources that provide for a stimulating research environment.

About the programme

The purpose of the African Guest Researchers’ Scholarship Programme is to provide opportunities for early-career researchers based in Africa to work and develop their ongoing research at the Nordic Africa Institute. The scholarship offers access to the Institute’s library and other resources that provide for a stimulating research environment. Through the programme, the Nordic Africa Institute aims to contribute to building capacity in the production of knowledge about Africa and to promote and establish relations with and between African and Nordic research communities.

The maximum duration of the stay is 90 days, minimum is 60 days. Also note that most academic institutions in the Nordic countries, including the Nordic Africa Institute, are closed or at least running at a reduced capacity during the periods 15 June–15 August and 15 December–15 January. Applicants can thus not choose these periods for their visit.

The scholarship includes a return air-fare (economy class), accommodation, a subsistence allowance of 400 SEK (approx. 40 USD) per day plus an installation grant of 2,500 SEK (approx. 250 USD) and access to a workspace, including a desk computer, in a shared office at the Institute. Please note that the subsistence allowance will be provided only for the days spent in Uppsala.


The scholarship programme is directed at early career researchers based in Africa and engaged in Africa-oriented research. The research topic should be within the disciplines of Social Sciences and Humanities, and with a focus on contemporary Africa.

The programme is open to two main categories of early career researchers:

  • Staff employed by an African-based university or research center who are enrolled on a doctoral programme in the African region and who do not have access to an international scholarship
  • Postdoctoral researchers (within 5 years or less of PhD completion)

Should you have any practical questions or concerns, please contact Marie Karlsson.

New report: Understanding the role of development finance institutions (DFI)

Makati, Manila.

The SEI report “Understanding the role of development finance institutions in promoting development: an assessment of three African countries,” is now launched.

About the report by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

The report seeks to understand the role of development finance institutions (DFI) in supporting the objectives of national development plans, particularly those emphasizing the SDGs, set by the developing countries within which DFIs invest.

The authors focus on DFIs that provide finance to the private sector under concessional terms, seeking a profit. The analysis of DFI funding is set within the broader context of the role played by financial flows, such as commercial finance and foreign aid (i.e. Official Development Assistance, ODA), in supporting national development objectives. Three country case studies are used as a lens for the analysis, namely Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana.

The report defines the role that DFIs play as investors as well as their potential contribution to development outcomes, including the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Finally, the report identifies opportunities where DFI investments could support sectors deemed as strategic by governments following the DFI investment principles of financial additionality, development impacts and catalytic effects. The paper suggests four steps that DFIs could follow to increase their level of funding towards strategic sectors. These are:

  • to identify the strategic sectors
  • compare these with current DFI investment activities
  • discuss how DFIs could support investments in these sectors with key stakeholders (private sector, other financing institutions and the government), and
  • to invest in the target priority sectors.

Comments from the authors

Regarding the purpose of the joint research, George Marbuah, Research Fellow at SEI Headquarters, said:

“DFIs can be even more strategic and transformational with their investments by aligning their portfolios with country development strategies. This report shows how DFIs can enhance their development impact in Africa.”

Text adapted by the SweDev Secretariat from the original publication post on the SEI website.